Advice From Master Printmaker Rocco Ancora
by As told to Libby Peterson
February 03, 2017 —
All photos © Rocco Ancora
In the printmaking world, few photographers can claim the printmaking prowess that Rocco Ancora possesses. He’s certainly earned it; this is his 23rd year in the industry. His expertise was cultivated by years of work that began with an apprenticeship as a lab technician in the 1990s. Before anyone was fretting over color management, Ancora was mixing chemicals and learning to understand the multiplex facets of color. He printed many photographers’ work before he picked up a camera himself. Today, Ancora’s reputation as a highly respected photographer is met with accolades awarded from around the world, and he operates his own lab, Capture to Print, in his home base of Melbourne, Australia.
“I saw print fade to almost nothing over the years as digital took over,” Ancora says. “The USB stick became print’s replacement, which was really sad. But there’s absolutely been a resurgence. At least for me, if it’s not printed, it’s not real.”
Despite the upswing in print, a tepid mindset remains for some photographers in regards to printing. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” Ancora postulates, “the fear of color management and how color can be translated from a digital file onto a printed image.” He began with the color management side of the process back when Capture to Print went digital in 2000. “Understanding color was the biggest part of our success.”
DECODING THE PROCESS
ASK YOUR PRINTMAKER…
Can I have a printer profile? In other words, you’ll want to know what the printer’s going to be using for paper so you can soft-proof your image. “If I send you a paper profile from my particular printer, and you load that into Photoshop, you can actually see exactly how those tones are going to be interpreted on the particular stock of paper that I’m printing on. This is an extremely important process if you’re not printing yourself and you’re sending stuff out.”
PLAYING MATCHMAKER WITH PAPER
Capture to Print works with a range of photographers, he notes, from wedding photographers looking to make prints for clients or competitions, to fine-art shooters who want collections printed for exhibitions. He knows a thing or two about paper—primarily, that paper choice isn’t willy-nilly.
“When you first start to print, you think, Well, this is the paper I love, and this is what I’m going to use to print every single image I ever shoot, and it’s not that simple,” Ancora says. “You have to understand that different papers do different things—they all interpret tones differently.” A master printer will be able to look at your image and, without any trial-and-error, judge the type of paper that should be used to get the best out of the shadows, mid-tones and highlights.
That said, if you’re a novice, some trial-and-error can do some good. “Printing is all about completing your vision as an artist, and different paper stocks will express your vision in a different way,” Ancora says. “Print the same image on a couple of differed stocks and see what looks best to you.”
Ancora sticks with three different Baryta papers: Canson Rag Photographique (a fine-art smooth matte), Canson Printmaking Rag (a slightly textured, warmer matte) and Canson Platine (a fibre base-coated stock). Why Baryta papers? “They provide an aesthetic and feel of the original F-Type darkroom fibre base papers with a true, pure white tone, without the use of optical brightening agents,” he says. “Another characteristic is their ability to produce extremely high Dmax (or rich blacks), wide gamuts, good contrast and nice sharpness, making them an ideal choice for black-and-white and color prints.”
PAPER OF CHOICE:
(A) Paper of choice: Canson Printmaking Rag paper
(B) Paper of choice: Canson Platine Fibre Rag paper
(C) Paper of choice: Canson Rag Photographique
Your paper should be…
EVOLVING THE PRINT
The image is imported into Adobe Camera Raw and necessary adjustments are made to color and tonality.
The image is exported into Photoshop in 16-bit in the ProPhoto RGB color space. “I usually like to map out the adjustments and brainstorm where I’d like the image to go and bring visual balance,” Ancora says.
The final image is ready to print with all of the adjustments and color enhancements. “A texture was also added to the back wall to aid the overall look and feel,” Ancora says, who printed this on Canson Printmaking Rag paper. “The slightly warm base of the paper and subtle texture created the perfect finishing touch to complete the creative vision.”
PRINT COMP PREP
Color plays a major role as well, he says—it needs to be more than a supporting actor in a print. “If you enter a print and you try to do something funky with the color because you think it’s creative, but it adds nothing to the story and there’s no narrative that relates back to the color, the image is going to fail miserably,” Ancora cautions. “A lot of times you’ll see a photographer make a photo with a story about love and human connection, and then try to marry that up with a color that just doesn’t replicate that. You get a warm feeling but then a cold look, and you go, ‘This is not really working, this color is doing nothing for the message.’ You shouldn’t have to explain anything to the audience.”
Rocco Ancora is an award-winning wedding photographer who’s celebrated for his classic, romantic work and meticulous printmaking. At WPPI, he will speak on the “Anatomy of a Fine-Art Print,” on Wednesday, February 8.
To read this article in the digital edition, click here.
Related: Why You Should Be Printing Your Work
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